The Smithsonian National Postal Museum, located near the U.S. Capitol, is devoted to presenting the colorful history of the nation’s mail service. Mail transported our national culture, promoted capitalism, migration, community and identity formation.
It provided a communication link that encouraged the formation of like citizenry long before the birth of the Internet. These images provide a peek into this intriguing history. To learn more, visit the museum's website.
Christmas postcard from Pittstown, New Jersey rural carrier John S. MacIlroy to William Taylor dated December 21, 1915. The back of the postcard has a printed five stanza poem titled "If" that includes the verse, "when packages due don't come on time / And those who are sending don't raise their sign / it sure would save anxiety / if I knew you and you knew me."
Many rural letter carriers left holiday postcards for their patrons, though few went as far as Mr. MacIlroy in creating specialty cards such as this one. Fortunately for MacIlroy, he remembered to place a stamp on this postcard. Carriers who simply placed postcards in their patrons' mailboxes without stamps were subject to disciplinary measures for misuse of the mailbox.
Rural letter carrier peers out of his sleigh while making his daily rounds. Rural carriers in cold winter climates often kept sleighs for winter use, in addition to their mail wagons. Such expenses were sometimes hardship for rural carriers, who were (and still are) responsible for purchasing their own vehicles.
Dog sleds transported mail in some areas of the northern United States and the Alaskan Territory during winter months. Contract carriers used these sleds across Alaska from the late nineteenth century into the early 1920s. Isolated for much of the year, remote populations sometimes relied on dog sleds for contact with the outside world.
Because weight was a critical factor for the dogs, mail traveling on sleds was usually restricted to first-class pieces unless room was available for newspapers, magazines, and packages. These items were otherwise left behind until spring, when they might be transported by steamboat or wagon.
Rural carrier Lloyd Mortice created this unusual vehicle for use on his snow-bound New England route. Mortice fitted his 1926 Model-T with a steel track on the rear drive shaft, enabling him to drop either wheels or skis into place in front, depending on weather conditions. The company that sold Mortice the steel track later produced a similar vehicle based on the carrier's idea.